A good morning wish on the famous flag-waving Fourth of July for our neighbours to the south. Another nation born of theft of indigenous lands, the Doctrine of Discovery, with the added dollop of “manifest destiny.”
A serious reckoning is spreading well beyond our borders. Statues are being toppled, not only in Canada, but throughout the continent. Tributes to Spanish conquistadors, Queen Isabella, and Christopher Columbus are falling.
We know that of truth and reconciliation, it is the truth that must come first. Facing facts is hard, especially for the descendants of the winners. No one alive today set the course for exploitation, colonialism and genocide. But unwittingly, we (if settler culture Canadians) benefited. And we can, without ostentatious displays of guilt, do the work to make amends. It is good work. We can be good allies. That work starts with caring more about the living, caring more about justice, than we care about statues.
It has been a dreadful week. We are reeling from multiple traumatic events. This week was marked by an expected, but still harrowing, discovery of more buried stolen, indigenous children. We experienced unprecedented increases in intense heatwave events, the heat domes I wrote about last week, and the devastating sudden fire storm that destroyed the beautiful village of Lytton.
It was inspiring to see so many Canada Day demonstrations across Canada, from St. Johns, Newfoundland to Victoria, BC in solidarity with indigenous peoples in grief and mourning. Enormous July 1 crowds in Ottawa, London, Toronto and Victoria were a tangible communication to indigenous peoples that we mean to be good allies.
For more good news, thank heavens for the perseverance of the Blueberry River First Nation in taking the British Columbia government to court. And more thanks to the heavens for the brilliant decision of Madam Justice Emily Burke of the BC Supreme Court.
She delivered a decisive blow to more than a century of violations of indigenous rights and promises made under Treaty 8. If you can, please take the time to read the whole decision:
Particularly fascinating is the detailing of the history of Treaty 8 negotiations (starting at paragraph 111). It is amazing to read near transcripts of the 1899 negotiations. Indigenous people spoke very clearly to the necessity that their rights to hunt and fish and live as free peoples be respected. One typical assurance from the Crown is cited:
“They are very-small bands or families and can make a good livelihood by hunting and fishing for many years to come. The advent of population in that portion of the country would not decrease their facilities for making a livelihood. A very small portion of the country will be taken up for farming and the Indian will be disturbed very little in respect of his hunting and fishing.” (emphasis added in judgment, para 142).
After a detailed review of what was promised, Madam Justice Burke concluded:
“Treaty 8 guarantees the Indigenous signatories and adherents the right to continue a way of life based on hunting, fishing and trapping, and promises that this way of life will not be forcibly interfered with. Inherent in the promise that there will be no forced interference with this way of life is that the Crown will not significantly affect or destroy the basic elements or features needed for that way of life to continue.” (para 175)
The reality is totally different. Cumulative impacts have destroyed what was once the birthright of the peoples of the Peace River territory. In fact, nearly three quarters of the Blueberry River First Nations’ traditional territory is within 250 metres of an industrial disturbance.
Maegen Giltrow, legal counsel for Blueberry River First Nations, called the ruling a “complete vindication of Blueberry’s position.”
“The Crown really strongly believed that it had the right to take up land so long as it consulted. But the court noted that consultation never resulted in a ‘no’ … It always resulted in approval…The court found there’s a limit and it’s been passed.” (from the Narwhal story above)
Hallelujah! It has been clear forever that governments, provincial and federal, feel that consultations with First Nations, Metis and Inuit consist of repetitive exchanges in which the goal is to “consult” until indigenous peoples agree. This has been true whether for TMX, Site C, Keystone or Muskrat Falls. Burke’s ruling is a knock-out.
The next question is whether the BC government, dripping in its own hypocrisy (just as much as does the Trudeau administration) will appeal the judgment. This ruling will likely make a big difference in West Moberly First Nation’s Site C challenge to be heard next March.
It could be said of wheels of justice, what Plutarch said of the millstones of the gods. “They grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine.”
On to the rest of this grim week. The record smashing heat wave sitting on Western Canada grabbed the world’s attention. It was hard to live through. I am relieved that my husband and step-daughter have reached Vancouver. The thermometer at John’s farm in Ashcroft hit 50 degrees. John emailed me on July 1, “And here we are in Ashcroft, my beautiful and much-loved Dry Belt, now, again, enveloped in smoke, now, again, trying to be helpful to neighbours, now, again, wondering if the wind will shift and carry a fire down this way, now, again, getting valuables ready for escape, and yes, again, making sure pumps and hoses are working, nozzles are right, fuel is away from buildings, cars are ready to go, respirators are on for outside work, and now, again, tears for our friends in Lytton and up the Deadman River and way up in Vidette and all over the southern Interior…”
Heat stroke is a killer. So far the B.C. coroner estimates that at least three hundred of our fellow citizens died due to the heat. As ever, those most vulnerable were elderly and low income.
For most of us, this week marked the first time we heard of pyrocumulonimbus clouds – clouds that rain down sparks and lightning and more fires. A new feedback loop, as described by Dogwood’s Kai Nagata “of fires so big and hot they create storm clouds, which shoot out lightning that starts new fires.”
At this writing, there are 170 wildfires burning across British Columbia, as well as 26 wildfires in northern Saskatchewan; the one near the Cigar Lake Uranium Mine being of greatest concern. Saskatchewan has broken its wildfire record for the entire year with 200 fires so far in 2021, compared to its five-year average of 192.
As Lytton burned before our eyes, shared through horrifying videos, news footage brought us a different image of fire – one floating in the Gulf of Mexico. An underwater crude pipeline burst, owned by Mexico’s state oil company Pemex. As ever, industry flaks assured us there was no damage.
Greta Thunberg delivered a withering address to world leaders.
She started by pointing out the school climate strike movement has been active for 150 weeks. She continued, that the resulting pressure was finally enough to have people in power feel “the eyes of the world.”
“So, you started to act. Not acting as in taking climate action, but acting as in role playing… playing with words and playing with our future.”
It seemed she was speaking directly to Canada’s climate “leaders.” The horror is that her condemnation applies to so many in power in industrialized countries around the world. I particularly appreciated her denunciation of those who have shifted the focus from near term action to “net zero by 2050.”
Greens must keep the climate emergency front and centre. And we will.
For now, stay well. If in a heat wave, protect your health and that of those around you. Please support fundraising for Lytton:https://www.vicnews.com/news/heres-how-you-can-help-victims-of-the-devastating-lytton-wildfire/
And please check out my P.S. for my proud grandmother story and another GoFundMe!
Thanks for so many well wishes and encouraging notes.
PS. My granddaughter Skye in Haliburton, Ontario is one of the kids responsible for an effort to acknowledge and celebrate two amazing Black athletes from the community, whose contributions have been ignored. I am super proud of Skye MacArthur and the support from her teacher Mme Marina Thomazo to push through approval for a mural, belatedly, acknowledging these Black athletes. Story and GoFundMe link below!